Déjà vu in Sudan?

Haitham Nouri , Wednesday 6 Oct 2021

The disintegration of the Forces of Freedom and Change bodes ill for Sudan.

D j  vu in Sudan
A conference on the National Consensus Charter of the Forces of Freedom and Change in Khartoum announcing the formation of an alliance separate from the country s main civilian bloc (photo: AFP)

Twenty Sudanese parties and armed movements that split from the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC) announced a new Charter of National Accord, breaking up the civil bloc behind toppling former president Omar Al-Bashir and his Islamist supporters.

Prominent forces that signed the declaration include the Sudan Liberation Army led by Minni Arko Minawi, the governor of Darfur, and the Justice and Equality Movement led by Jibril Ibrahim, the minister of finance. Both are armed organisations that fought against the Al-Bashir regime during the bloody conflict in Darfur.

Strangely enough, several forces and parties that took part in political life under Al-Bashir also signed the declaration, leading Jaafar Hassan Osman, the spokesman of the Federal Gathering, to accuse FFC leaders of a rapprochement with the former regime.

The forces that split from the FFC are known as the Reform Movement, taking their name from the FFC Reform Committee that demanded the dismissal of the coalition’s Central Council. When this did not happen they defected, creating the Charter of National Accord.

The Central Council comprises 40 parties, including the National Umma Party, the Sudanese Congress, the Arab Baath, the Federal Gathering and the Professionals’ Association. Minawi accused these parties of having “hijacked the FFC and monopolised speaking in the name of the people.”

Splits appeared in the FFC in April when the National Umma Party announced it was freezing its activities in the FFC. The Communist Party followed suit. In May, the FFC Reform Committee withdrew confidence from the Central Council, demanding “the replacement of the civil components in the Sovereignty Council,” which rules Sudan.

During that time, a civilian member of the Sovereignty Council, Aisha Al-Said, resigned in protest of the “marginalisation of civilians in the council,” accusing some FFC members of “working in the dark with various bodies to run the state away from the eyes of civilians.”

“We signed a document in September to restructure the FFC and it was open to all parties, but members of the Reform Committee refused and signed their own charter,” said Mohamed Mahdi Hassan, head of the National Umma Party’s political bureau.

Since the overthrow of the Al-Bashir regime in April 2019, Sudan has been governed by military and civilian members of the Sovereignty Council and transitional government. Prime Minister Abdullah Hamdok proposed an initiative to “unify the political incubator”, but “it was not well received,” Fayez Al-Salik, a former government media adviser told Al-Ahram Weekly.

The Reform Committee stated that the dispute between the components of the FFC has nothing to do with the military. On the other hand, the Central Council believes that the military intervened, escalating the crisis, Al-Salik added.

Meanwhile, the cabinet released a statement warning that “the country is about to run out of its stock of medicine, wheat and fuel,” due to what it said were strikes in Port Sudan, which led to the closure of the key sea port for imports and exports in Sudan.

The Council of Chiefs of the Beja tribes in eastern Sudan went on strike in protest of the “marginalisation” of their region. Sennar state, in the southern Blue Nile, on the border with South Sudan, is mired in its own conflicts. Furthermore, there are rising demands to dismiss the governor of the northern state, Amal Ezzeddin.

Hassan told the Weekly that the dispute erupted over the comments of the Justice and Equality Movement on the issues of “political weights” and “establishing a decision-making mechanism that does not depend on the majority.”

“We were understanding, and we included these issues in the September charter to restructure the alliance,” he added.

“There are many deviations in the Sudanese state and society which cannot be fixed in the short term,” said Al-Salik.

A source in the Justice and Equality Movement speaking on condition of anonymity told the Weekly that “it is not true that the military intervened. There is a major crisis caused by the war in Darfur, which resulted in the displacement of the majority of the non-Arab farmers who resided there. The area was then inhabited by Arab tribes from Chad and Niger. This problem cannot be solved except through the army because it is the only solid force in the country.”

Led by the Vice President of the Sovereignty Council Mohamed Hamdan, aka Hamidti, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) – the majority of whose members belong to Arab Bedouin tribes in Darfur – is known to have fought alongside Al-Bashir’s government against the Justice and Equality Movement and the Sudan Liberation Army.

“The military want to restructure Sudan’s political scene,” Al-Salik opined. “They don’t want to risk a coup. Rather they want to rule through a political incubator that accepts them.”

However, rapprochement between the armed movements in Darfur and the military could strain the latter’s relationship with the RSF, which will reflect negatively on the stability of a region that is open to conflict in Libya. Arab members from the area participated in the wars of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Chad during the 1980s, and after the killing of Chad’s strong leader Idriss Deby.

That kind of rapprochement would heighten tensions in the capital Khartoum.

“The military want to support the tribes because they are demanding stability. Many observers believe this is a demand the military can fulfil,” Al-Salik stated.

According to a leader in the Professionals’ Association, “our fear is to remain in the FFC with no other forces but the left and liberals while the rest of the FFC join the military. This has repeatedly happened in Sudan, which doesn’t comprise a wide middle class base that can have the final say.”

The alliance that overthrew the first military government in the October 1964 Revolution was eventually isolated when its leaders joined the Umma and Ittihad parties. The same thing happened following the April 1985 uprising that toppled General Numeiri’s regime.

The similar scenario might be repeated today, albeit with a military leadership, due to the absence of figureheads such as Al-Sadek Al-Mahdi who died last year of Covid-19.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 7 October, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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